I usually enjoy learning. The process of someone explaining to me how to make a new type of food, or how to say a special word in another language, or coming to know interesting bits of history is fascinating. I like to learn about new places and new books. I like to meet people who have had experiences different from mine. I like to learn to sing new songs and to try new foods. And I even like the concept of learning those harder things – how to be patient, to be compassionate, how to count to ten before getting angry. I want to learn them in a way that has them come naturally to me in those edgier moments.
Some things are definitely harder for me to learn. I haven’t learned how to enjoy sorting through boxes of books. Which seems like it would be an easy thing because after all I like reading so much. But boxes and boxes and boxes of books which is the current state of things in my warehouse/garage does not bring joy. Rather I put the task of sorting them off. Yesterday some friends stopped by and the youngest in the group climbed up into a chair to read while the adults did their talking. Her satisfaction with books and the look she gave when I asked what she was reading was just enough to get me started on those boxes today. I interpreted her look to mean, “How can you possibly hope to take that bookstore across country when you can’t even organize the books to find which ones to take with you?”
Alright, young Madeline. I am on it. I am taking your love for reading and my enthusiasm for taking a well-stocked bookstore thousands of miles on the next trip to heart. I will start sorting boxes today.
No doubt about it. It is still winter in this part of Montana. Snow is piling up, a winter storm warning is in effect and so an ideal time to stay indoors doing bookish things. I spend part of the day tracking down venues for the Grand 2018 North Carolina and Back Traveling Bookstore Tour. Some towns seem friendlier than other at welcoming the thought of an amazing pop up bookstore. I am confident that I will have all venues set for this trip when it occurs in April. In between sending out these emails, messages and making phone calls though, I read. Winter in Montana is perfect for that although I suspect I would read just as much if I happened to be in Orlando or Texas or Madagascar.
I imagine others have a habit similar to mine. I don’t read one book at a time. I chose from a pile. Actually two. One pile is next to the bed, the other by my favorite chair in the living room. When I curl up in either place, I peruse the nearest pile and pull out the book that is most appealing in that moment. It could be poetry, it could be nonfiction. It could be the book I need to finish for book club next week or the one Dawn lent me that I promised to get back to her soon. If a particular book stays in a pile too long, I take it as a sign that it should be put back on the shelf, returned to the owner or recycled in the bookstore. Surprisingly the piles never get smaller.
Truth be told, on these snowy days I would rather read then look for venues. Once I am on the road – I am enthralled with the life of a traveling bookstore owner. It’s this challenge though to explain to people hundreds of miles away about the very minimal needs of a traveling bookstore and the numerous benefits of having it set up right there where you can see it, come inside and smell the books. I suspect they think it’s a flimflam operation. There was mention of a criminal background check by a municipality in Illinois. A parking space and a wee bit of pavement is all I ask. I truly don’t need much and look at all you get in exchange! A van full of wonderful used books to brighten the lives of the citizens in your community. An opportunity to try a manual typewriter with a fresh ribbon and to experiment with a solar-powered theremin. Who wouldn’t want a traveling bookstore to set up on your tree lined street? Or in a parking lot adjacent to your wonderful cafe/pub/restaurant/typewriter repair store?
Fortunately I can do both on this snowy afternoon. I send out a few emails, respond to questions (“Will you need to plug into power?” No. “Does your bookstore serve any food or beverages?” No.). Then I take a break in the red chair by the window, watch the snow fall and pull out a book that matches this moment.
I have some sort of addiction to fortune cookies. Not the cookies themselves – a bit too sweet usually, but to the small rectangular fortunes found inside. When given a cookie after a meal at Sumi’s Kitchen, a great local place, I immediately break it open to get the news. Regardless of what that day’s particular fortune might be, it always seems relevant. I have one that I taped to the back of my phone that reads, “Your road to glory will be rocky but fulfilling. Be patient.” I have no idea what the particular glory might be but I do believe the road will be rocky (I live in Montana after all) and patience is a characteristic I have been working years to achieve.
Yesterday’s fortune was “Take that chance you’ve been considering.” Now how could anyone read that without feeling hopeful? Aren’t there numerous considerations roiling about in my mind that I could take a chance on? Is this cookie’s fortune specific to one or to any of the ideas that I have been considering of late? Does it refer to the traveling bookstore business and the upcoming Grand 2018 to North Carolina and Back Tour? There is an opportunity to set up the bookstore for a day in Smiths Grove, KY. That town is a bit small but don’t people in small towns deserve an opportunity to get great buys on a wonderful selection of used books? Or is it my idea to set up in Sheridan, WY on the way back in late April but where exactly? There aren’t any easy contacts in Sheridan so it would be a matter of cold calling someone. Is that the chance?
Or maybe its the suggestion I run for county commissioner? Not that it is a serious consideration but perhaps fortune cookies don’t make those distinctions. A consideration is a consideration. Consider it and take a chance. So perhaps this particular fortune is about upping the game. We all take chances every time we get up in the morning, walk out the front door, get in a car, meet a new person. Maybe this fortune means to take a chance on a wilder consideration. Taking a teaching job in Romania back in 2002 or starting a traveling bookstore might have been considerations/chances but each had a safety net of sorts. Maybe this fortune cookie gives the message that sometimes its important to take chances on considerations that are a bit scarier. Maybe that is how we continue to grow as individuals.
It is the time of year when traveling bookstores, especially those in Montana, are planning for spring. Of course it isn’t as though we can put off doing bookish things until the cherry blossoms are out. We ease into it with a Valentine’s Day Type-In at The Front Porch in Eureka. Between 2:00 – 5:00pm stop by to type your sweetie a poem, create a valentine, compose (or copy) a sonnet, send off kisses to someone special, etc etc etc. There will be a variety of manual typewriters as well as pens, markers, glue, crayons, stamps, glitter, paper and envelopes to assist in your effort.
Then in late March we hit the road. My oh my! Exciting places lining up. The bookstore pulls out of Eureka late March with the first event in Minneapolis on April 1 (no fooling!). Then on to Woodstock, IL, Indianapolis, Asheville, Raleigh, and Wake Forest (we are partnering with Page 158 there). On the return trip the bookstore has stops in Morgantown, WV and Sheridan, WY. Tempted to get tshirts like rock groups to advertise the 2018 Bookstore Tour.
Of course the Grand 2018 to North Carolina and Back Tour is just the beginning of the season. There will be the farmers market in Eureka, the annual music festival in Yaak, MT and the blues festival in Libby, MT. There will also be adventures in San Francisco and in Oregon. It seems the trainer wheels have finally come off the traveling bookstore and its rolling! If you want to have the bookstore visit you for a special event, don’t hesitate to ask. Birthday parties, read-a-thons, literary luncheons, summer camps and family reunions (“The Relatives Came” by Cynthia Rylant being one of my personal favorites) are all opportunities to have a traveling bookstore pull up.
No, the traveling bookstore is not headed to Hawaii or Mexico at the moment. Its parked in Montana waiting for early spring or at least the roads to be snow-free. Then it will start up again to head east on our first trip in 2018, across to Minneapolis, Illinois, Indiana and a week in North Carolina. Then back on a different route to spread the enthusiasm for reading, conversation and books at as many stops as possible.
What does this have to do with sand? Nothing and everything. It began with a conversation this morning about drawing lines in the sand. At first the image might be one of children running on a beach shrieking with joy and drawing lines as far as they can possibly run. Or a lover drawing a gigantic heart with a set of initials in the sand for the incoming tide to carry out to eternity. But really the line in the sand from this morning’s conversation was about speaking out, not being shy. The conversation included showing respect of course but not accepting a racist remark or a misogynistic remark with a bland look because you don’t want to start an argument or seem unkind or upset the dinner conversation on Christmas. You could look the other way or try to change the subject, or you can draw a line in the sand. A line in the sand has qualities you might consider. You aren’t putting up a brick wall – its sand after all. You aren’t using the stick to strike the other person, no never do that, but to indicate in the sand that there are limits. And perhaps now is a good time to talk about them. So even though there is definitely more snow visible in Montana at the moment than sand, remember to draw lines. Its good to hear all kinds of voices.
I am not going to suggest books to you. I learned a while back that doesn’t work unless we are standing (or sitting) within a comfortable distance of each other having a conversation. I might ask what you enjoy reading. You might mention some particular titles. I would get excited because I also just read one of those and it reminded me of another that you might like as well. It is personal. Its not Amazon. Its you and me discussing books, discussing authors, discussing ideas, discussing our travels and experiences and how I ended up owning a traveling bookstore and how you ending up living in Montana or Idaho or Illinois or Alabama.
This time of year gets even trickier as people want to buy books for friends or relatives, the kid across the street or a woman at work. “Do you think my eleven year old nephew would enjoy this book?” I don’t know. I would certainly enjoy meeting your eleven year old nephew and finding out what he likes. I can’t really say though what any generic eleven year old boy might be interested in though. Let’s talk.
But I am glad that you are shopping at this particular bookstore, at this somewhat local business, at this small business. I am happy that even when you had choices of box stores and online opportunities, you decided to track down this particular traveling bookstore and buy used books to make that gift even more special. I can’t give you an easy answer for which book to buy for that rambunctious nephew or even the older woman who takes care of your cat when you are away. I will talk books and people with you. I might suggest this or that title. There are times when I might even suggest making your own book for a very special person. There’s a typewriter and paper in the bookstore and some books that explain bookbinding. Bookstore owner and a facilitator – perhaps I should put that on my business card.
Special thanks go out with this post to: 1) Peggy Jane who has the beautiful smile in the photo. A gem of a friend. And 2) to La Două Bufniţe, a wondrous bookstore I found in Timisoara, RO. If you are ever in that area, stop by (https://www.facebook.com/ladouabufnite).
Some might think a traveling bookstore would be enough. After all by its third summer in operation, the bookstore had been all over Montana (no small feat), to the Brooklyn Book Festival in NY, to events in San Francisco, to Portland and to the Seattle area. It had set up in Illinois and Idaho. It had been perused by the waitress at Trixi’s Saloon in Ovando and by a cop in Choteau. It had blown a tire in S. Dakota and had a small fixable oil problem in Coeur d’Alene.
And of course there are times when the bookstore stays parked quietly at home while I wander forth with a small suitcase and only a book or two. The current adventure has me in the Czech Republic with a brief foray to Vienna, and then later to Israel, Hungary and Romania. It was really just today though while buying a canvas (my third on this trip) that I realized different places pull out different aspects of who I am. While in my hometown, I’m compelled to volunteer, to give to the community which gives so much to me. In Brno, I find myself doing art on a daily basis – perhaps the lovely morning light in the flat where I stay. In Vienna, I could sit for hours (and do) writing: writing on a bench in the midst of the Impressionist exhibit, writing in a small quiet cafe). I remember once being at the Oregon coast with a friend over a long weekend sewing. As though I had to get as much sewing done as possible even though I rarely sew. Different places draw out different aspects of me, as though there isn’t a static me but a me that changes with place.
I wonder if this happens to other people. Is it one of the reasons we travel? And how do people who don’t travel manage to see all they are capable of doing?